BRING ON 2021

Here are 3 convincing reasons 2020 can't end fast enough for Houston fans

There's always next year. Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

What the hell happened, Houston? Wasn't it just one season ago …

The Astros were defending American League champions, only a stunningly dumb manager's decision (I'm talking about the decision being dumb, but if you read that as the manager being dumb, go with it) from winning the World Series.

The Texans won the AFC South Division as usual, and with supremely gifted quarterback Deshaun Watson blossoming into his prime, J.J. Watt returning to full brilliance, it was full steam ahead for the playoffs and a bright future.

The Rockets were the one outside team that had a shooter's shot at toppling the Los Angeles LeBrons. With Russell Westbrook added to the Rockets' firepower, Houston was poised for a run at its first NBA title since Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler a generation ago. Yes, it's been a quarter-century since the Rockets' parade in downtown Houston.

And now?

The Astros are coming off a season with their best pitcher sidelined with Tommy John, their even better pitcher gone for Yankees blood money, their manager and team president suspended and fired for cheating, their best hitter and second-best hitter flirting with other teams in free agency, and their top reliever's whereabouts unknown. No shock, the Astros finished the 2020 regular season with a losing record.

Things aren't looking up. Free agent George Springer is in line for a Fort Knox deal from New York or Boston or anywhere but Houston. Michael Brantley may or may not be an Astro next year, the smart money is on not. Shamed team president Jeff Luhnow is suing the team for millions and millions. Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman are coming off down seasons. First baseman Yuli Gurriel went into the dumper. Yordan Alvarez, their slugging 2019 Rookie of the Year played only two games in 2020. The Astros are targeting free agents, who in each case, are statistical downgrades from the player they'll be replacing. The 2021 Astros won't have a single player who received a single vote for MVP, Cy Young, Rookie of the Year or Fireman of the Year this year. No Gold Glove winners, either. Although, come on, did nobody watch Carlos Correa this year?

Over the past 12 months, the Texans fired head coach Bill O'Brien and general manager Bill O'Brien. Team owner Cal McNair probably wished he had given more power to O'Brien so he could fire him from that, too. O'Brien did stick around long enough to trade superstar receiver DeAndre Hopkins for a button and pocket lint. The Texans are a disastrous 2-6 with both wins coming against the even more disastrous Jacksonville Jaguars.

The greatest and most beloved Texan ever, J.J. Watt has made it clear that he wants out of Houston, and fans are rooting for the Texans to trade him. In the words of John Lennon, things "can't go no worse," right? Wrong, the Texans just fired vice-president of communications Amy Palcic, possibly their most popular employee. The reported reason, she didn't fit into the Texans' "culture." That word will come back to haunt the Texans when Palcic drags them into court. "Mr. Easterby, please tell the jury exactly what the Texans' 'culture' is."

The Rockets are a hot mess, who went cold from 3-point land in the playoffs – again. Veteran head coach Mike D'Antoni, who had the best winning percentage of any coach in Rockets history, and coveted general manager Daryl Morey have resigned (for lack of a better word). In both cases, they're being replaced by first-timers. Are the Rockets rebuilding? They're not.

Superstar (again for lack of a better word) Russell Westbrook is demanding a trade. He has $130 million left on his contract. Westbrook never really fit the Rockets' mold (the exact right word). Nobody depends more on three-pointers than the Rockets and Westbrook is an awful three-point shooter. Explain why you traded for him again? Danuel House and Eric Gordon don't like the way they're played. P.J. Tucker, 35, wants a lot more money. Austin Rivers is headed out the door. That leaves Rockets scoring machine James Harden, and if you listen to those blabbers on ESPN, he needs to go, too. No word on whether mascot Clutch the Bear is looking for loopholes in his contract.

Houston used to be a shining city on the hill for its smoothly functioning teams with winning records, admired front offices and love affair with fans. Now we're Detroit. Sports talk stations need to hire a special person just to push the bleep button. You can't tell the players with a scorecard. No doubt, 2020 will go down as annus horribilis for Houston sports. This is what rock bottom looks like.

So let's put on our coal miner's hat and dig deep for something positive to say about Houston's sports teams in 2020.

Got it! Dallas was even worse. That sort of makes the whole crappy year worth it.

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A WEEKLY REVIEW OF CRENNEL'S COACHING

Now my job: Texans feast on Lions

Photo by Getty Images.

Thanksgiving is full of tradition. There's the typical family gathering, large meal, and of course, football. Sometimes, new traditions are added and old ones are retired. I think the Texans did both in their impressive 41-25 win over the Lions in Detroit. Old traditions were carried on (Lions losing on Thanksgiving), some were put to rest (Texans not being able to get turnovers), and new ones were started (multiple passing touchdowns by Deshaun Watson in six straight games).

The fact that this defense got three turnovers in the game was unbelievable! They got all three in the first quarter within the span of eight plays. JJ Watt's pick-six was insane. He went for a batted ball, ended up catching it, and ran it in. They forced Jonathan Williams to fumble on the Lions' very next play from scrimmage and recovered it. On the Lions' next possession, the Texans recovered yet another fumble after the challenge was reversed. Great call by the coaching staff to challenge and win. The defense looked good. Tyrell Adams stood out because he was in on those two fumbles, made 17 total tackles with 14 of them being solo tackles. They also brought pressure that seemed to make Matthew Stafford very inaccurate and resulted in four sacks. I give defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver credit for knowing he needs to blitz to get pressure, but the run defense has to improve.

The offense kept the tempo up in this game as well. The spread and hurry-up were used to keep the Lions already staggered defense off balance. Knowing the Lions were without a couple defensive backs, I thought it would be the perfect marriage of their defense and the Texans' offense. A buddy asked before the game about the line (Texans -3.5) and the over/under (52.5). I told him bet the Texans and the over because neither team can play defense and both have good quarterbacks. Offensive coordinator Tim Kelly put together another good game plan and Watson executed it flawlessly. One route combo I saw later on in the game I particularly enjoyed. Two receivers were tight to the left side. Cooks ran a hook/curl and settled in the middle of the zone while Fuller ran a vertical route. Duke Johnson ran a swing route to that same side. It left Cooks wide open as the attention went to Johnson in the flat, Fuller deep, and the action to the other play side. Route combos are important because it gives the quarterback different reads as he goes through his progressions and lets him pick apart the defense based on what he sees. Combine that with Watson's play and the way Kelly has changed his play calling now that he's liberated from he who shall not be named, we're seeing a beautiful thing.

As good as things were, there's still room for improvement. The defense gives up way too many easy yards, both run and pass. They can't get pressure bringing only four and will often give up big plays if the blitz is picked up. Plus the run defense is still an issue as evidenced by the Lions' first possession of the second half. The Lions ran the ball 10 plays straight for a total of 58 yards on that drive. Utterly ridiculous! Watson was good (17/25 318 yards and four touchdowns), but he missed two more touchdowns with passes slightly off, and continues to hold onto the ball too long at times. The difference between these two issues I've presented here is the fact that Watson has so played well, his "issues" are minor and very correctable, while the defense is terrible and there's no easy fix in sight. But let Romeo Crennel and Anthony Weaver tell it, they're getting the most out of these guys and they're playing disciplined.

The thought that this team may actually creep into the playoff picture may take shape better after next week if they can beat the Colts. I doubt it, but it is getting interesting. Let's see what else happens around them because they need help getting there.

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